The Community of WITS Volunteers’ Impact

By: Eric Coleman, Communications Manager

WITS Board Member and volunteer Patrick Hatton with his student Daveon, a third grader in the Mid-Day Mentoring program, at Drake Elementary School.

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, and volunteers have always been at the heart of WITS’ efforts to develop life-long readers. In 1991, WITS founders, Joanne Alter and Marion Stone,  felt they had a responsibility to give back to their community. Seeking ways to volunteer their time, Alter and Stone began partnering with a teacher at Byrd Academy, where they quickly became fixtures in the classroom and a literacy support for students. They saw firsthand the positive effects created by the simple act of reading aloud with students. WITS was then founded  by recruiting caring mentors to donate their time in order to cultivate the love of reading in Chicago Public Schools. Over the past 27 years, volunteers have been integral to WITS’ ability to impact thousands of students.

Annually, more than 1,500 individuals come together to improve literacy outcomes among Chicago Public Schools students. Through partnerships in the corporate and university sectors, and relationships in local communities, WITS’ community of volunteers contribute to building a culture in schools that drives students to a love of reading. “WITS volunteers model for our students what it means to be life-long readers,” said Kristen Strobbe, WITS Chief Program Officer. “Students and volunteers share stories and build strong relationships through the shared-reading experience – a hallmark of WITS programming.”

A mentor and kindergarten student read Pete the Cat together.

In Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework, the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research recommends “strong, supportive, and sustained relationships with caring adults who can encourage young people to reflect on their experiences and help them to interpret those experiences in ways that expand their sense of themselves and their horizons.”  WITS volunteers are trained to provide consistent one-on-one reading support and year-long mentorship that engages students through personal and meaningful learning. Each week, students are given the choice to explore topics based on their interests and practice comprehension by discussing the books they read aloud with their mentors. Supported by their volunteer mentor, each WITS student participates in approximately 20 hours of literacy enrichment throughout the school year.

WITS believes in the power of mentors to build and strengthen communities. Through individualized support, volunteers help students grow as readers and learners. While students are the primary beneficiaries of WITS programs, empowerment is often felt among volunteers too. “My favorite part of the WITS program is the relationships built with my student, my co-mentor, and my colleagues in the program,” said Patrick Hatton, General Manager of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, WITS Board Member, and volunteer in the Mid-Day Mentoring program at Drake Elementary School. “On the bus ride home after our sessions, everyone is re-charged as we share stories of our students and interactions from the day.”

A mentor and student in the Mid-Day Mentoring program read a book together in the Drake Elementary School library.

WITS creates opportunities for every student in Chicago to be literate. This vision could not be realized without the tremendous energy and enthusiasm of WITS’ volunteers.

Thank you for your service and Happy Volunteer Appreciation Month.

Opportunities for volunteering in WITS Early Childhood Summer Program and over the 2018-19 school year are open now. Please consider volunteering and encouraging others from your network to participate.

Nagaoka, Jenny, Camille A. Farrington, Stacy B. Ehrllch, and Ryan D. Heath. Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework. Thesis. University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, June 2015. Chicago: The U of Chicago, 2015. Print.